Why Tweeting About Getting High Isn’t a Good Idea at Work

I had an interesting conversation this week with someone in human resources about social media, particularly Twitter.  They had an interesting social media workplace scenario come up that I thought I would share with my readers and let you help decide.

This human resource professional is savvy on the social medias.  He/she is not there to police but to learn while also monitoring the activities of employees as well as customers who mention the company where he/she work’s brand.  Earlier this week they noticed a message from an employee who was tweeting their frustration with a company change in mandatory dress code.  Upon clicking on that employee’s Twitter profile the message previously tweeted, really (I mean really) caught their attention.

The employee tweeted about using drugs and getting high.

Yes, you read correctly.  This employee posted on his personal Twitter about getting high.  The employee’s first and last name was listed on their Twitter profile to boot.  Crazy, right?  Not entirely.

A few years back I dealt with a similar issue where a manager needed access to an employee’s email because they were out sick for work and had a large sales order that needed to be processed.  We provided the manager access and worked with IT to make this happen.  Upon accessing the employee’s email, the manager saw a private email message from another employee also from his work email detailing his recent recreational activities, and these activities happen to involve smoking marijuana.  And by recent, I mean to say that these “recreational activities” happened either during or before working hours according to the timestamp and timeline on the email communciation.

Of course I was quickly involved in the discussion as the human resources manager.  Was this single email enough to warrant reasonable suspicion?  Should human resources or the management start an investigation?  Could the manager bring the employee in and require drug testing?  Or was this another discussion entirely surrounding professionalism with regard to workplace communication and email?

I flashed quickly back to this scenario that I encountered when my HR colleague asked me this question.  Except that him/her question was different. . . maybe.  So I wanted to ask my readers who are managers, company leaders, employment law attorneys, and human resource professionals directly.  Does this tweet warrant a reasonable suspicion workplace investigation or is it something else?  What actions do you think should be taken if this was an employees who worked your organization?  And has anything like this happened in  your workplace?  You are welcome to share anonymously if you wish.

I, (as well as my friend) are looking forward to your response.  Thanks for reading, conversating, and being a part of Blogging4Jobs.

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Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell

Jessica Miller-Merrell (@jmillermerrell) is a workplace change agent, author and consultant focused on human resources and talent acquisition living in Austin, TX. Recognized by Forbes as a top 50 social media influencer and is a global speaker. She’s the founder of Workology, a workplace HR resource and host of the Workology Podcast.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. AvatarJosiah says

    Calling in sick to avoid work, then getting “busted” for bragging about your illicit activities (some of which apparently happen on company time) just go to show that you have an unreliable hand in the fold. Given the scarcity of jobs, I wouldn’t be surprised if this person was relieved of responsibilities.

  2. Avatarjanice hughes says

    I have a virtual office so my ability to view anything along that line would be next to impossible. My contractor/employees have much more privacy than if they came to work each day, so my opinions are very much off the hip and not policy.
    But, as a manager, colleague, etc. of someone who did this, my first thought would be to call them aside and just give them a verbal–hey, what are you thinking???–check. I would remind them that everything they do reflects on their community–work place, clients, family–and ask them to clean it up. They would be under more surveillance and the next compromise would be reacted to much more strongly.

    It seems to me that bragging about illegal activity isn’t smart. 😉 It does reflect a personality that doesn’t understand what’s appropriate and know when and where to be that way. That’s a bad characteristic to have in an employee. With enough breadcrumbs, I would consider letting them work for someone else.

    janice

  3. AvatarKendra Andrews says

    I’m not an expert in the area but from various seminars, etc., on the topic, I think the Twitter issue would depend upon the social media policy of the company. The recommendation is that it needs to be in the handbook that social media is being monitored and what is considered not acceptable for posting. If there isn’t a policy, or it isn’t well defined, I would agree with Janice. Pull them aside and remind them that tweets can be seen by all, then give them the company stance on social media and drug policies.

  4. AvatarArezoo says

    As an HR Manager, I once came across an employee’s Facebook page (unprotected), where he/she and other employees of our co were openly chatting re their weekend/evening drug use. Said employee often called in sick on Mondays (and other days), in addition to having performance issues and not complying with company internet policy (many Facebook rants were posted during the workday). Needless to say, after performance management attempts, this employee was shown the door.

    In this case, the Facebook activity only confirmed to us what we already suspected. But it proved to me that many employees, even to this day, still do not understand how public the social media forum is.

    I have seen tweets openly bashing an employer/a job, swearing, and acting otherwise immaturely… and it leads me to wonder: why are these people still employed?

    • Jessica Miller-MerrellJessica Miller-Merrell says

      Arezoo,

      Agreed. Employees don’t often think about the individuals who have access to social media. It’s liberating posting honest content and information, but it can get you into a lot of trouble. Companies will have to determine for themselves where that line is and the conversations surrounding what’s appropriate and what is not. We are still early on in the discussion when it comes to social media in the workplace.

      Thanks for your comment.

      JMM

  5. AvatarMelina Tomson says

    As an owner of a company that hires a lot of contract workers, I am like Janice in that they have a lot of privacy from my eyes. Since I’m hiring for quality of work and output it wouldn’t be a deal breaker if the person was doing the work I hired them to do and the activity wasn’t causing delays for me.

    If I was the owner of a company and that person was showing up to the office building every day, I absolutely would be having a conversation with them about discussing illegal activity on a public forum. I guess what I would do would depend on a few factors. 1) The age of the employee. The reason you can’t be POTUS until 35 is because young people aren’t known for great judgment. If the employee was 22, I’d probably be offering more of an “education and warning” type of intervention where I’d expect more from a 40 year old employee. 2) The performance of the employee. If they are doing a good job and otherwise adhering to company rules, again it would be more of “hey delete the tweet and don’t do that again” type of education vs. consideration of dismissal.

    So long story short, what I would do just depends. I don’t think I could make a cut and dry decision just based on one inappropriate tweet.

    • Jessica Miller-MerrellJessica Miller-Merrell says

      Melinda,

      Spoken like a good manager and leader, “It depends.” And you are absolutely right. I would argue though that we are all learning about social media and it cuts across age. My expectations for a 22 year old are just the same for the 40 year old. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is 55 plus and female. They are new to social media and are learning what’s appropriate and what is not. In fact, I’ve unfriended my mom on Facebook twice in the first six months that she was on. We are all learning, growing, and understanding.

      It never ceases to amaze me how people forget that social media allows for others to always be listening. . . . but then again, I have stories in HR that could make your toes curl.

      Thanks for the comment.

      JMM

  6. AvatarMandy Vavrinak says

    I am not an HR manager, but am a business owner. The other side of this whole thing is that while the email seen in your example was a more private communication (one to another, with an appearance if not an expectation of privacy), Twitter is not.
    The police WOULD look at that tweet as a tip and possibly choose to investigate. Not based on whether there’s cause (there is), but whether there’s resources available to do so. This shouldn’t be a discussion about what’s appropriate to post on social media, in my opinion. It should be a discussion about whether it makes sense to continue to employ a person with no regard for the law and without the sense to not brag about said disregard for the law (or the company dress policy) in a public forum. If your company policies allow firing for suspected drug use or social media policy infractions, then do remove this problem before it grows… between the company dress code tweet and the drug tweet, back to back, it doesn’t seem to be a one-tweet-wonder kind of issue.

  7. AvatarWilliam Tincup says

    I could care less what people do in their spare time… I believe in the power of outcomes based leadership. IMHO, the outcome (read: on time, high quality, etc) is more important than the road to said outcome. So, in sum, get high like Afroman… I could care less… but, don’t let anything get in the way of my outcomes.

    • Jessica Miller-MerrellJessica Miller-Merrell says

      William,

      Interesting point of view. I wish I could agree. What if this person was a forklift driver and they were tweeted about getting high. Would that change your mind?

      I think that social media continues to blur the line because it gives more access and information into our employees than before. I’d like to say that are private off work activities are private and not the business of the organization but that is not the case. Otherwise, people wouldn’t care if a teacher was a stripper as a second job, but they do.

      Thanks for the comment and the banter.

      JMM

  8. AvatarWilliam Tincup says

    Private should be private… I could care less if the forklift driver smokes a blunt on Saturday… I care about his safety rating… I care that he/she doesn’t run someone over with his fancy forklift. Much like I don’t care about the billboard that falls over in the forest. Means nothing to me. More to the point, we need to stop living in a world where we think we can legislate common sense. Focus on the outcomes that matter… and stop giving two shits about folks when they’re not at the office / plant, etc.

    In terms of the teacher that happens to be a stripper… btw, they prefer to be called dancers but I digress… who cares? Think of the absolute… what if she/he is the best teacher ever…. like ever… now, do you care? Hell no. All you should care about is that your child is learning.

    I still hold to my position… I don’t give two shits about what folks do away from the office. Key word in that sentence: away. Let them be.

    • AvatarCathy McPhillips says

      William,

      I agree with you on what they do in their off time is their personal business. However, if they are complaining about their job or representing their brand negatively and getting too personal, then it’s not personal anymore. I think the best social media policies empower the employees, not limit them. Tell them how to use their networks to enhance the company and their personal brand, not laundry-list what they are not allowed to do. I think asking them not to publicly complain about their job or reference getting high then heading into work isn’t too much to ask.

      As the person that handles the social media for a company, I don’t go nosing around their twitter profiles, but if they come up in a search for the company because they said something, then I think it becomes a company issue. Good or bad. I’ve passed on some GREAT tweets to our exec team on some team members who are constantly talking up the brand, saying they’re heading into work and to come see them, etc. I’ve passed on roughly a handful of negative ones in two years but they were blatant bashing of the company. I believe in all of these instances a warning and reminder were given.

    • Jessica Miller-MerrellJessica Miller-Merrell says

      William,

      You know I love you, but clearly you have never worked as a human resource practitioner. This would so never fly in any organization where I have worked. My legal team as well as my CEO would shit breaks and I would then be the formerly employed HR practitioner who had opened themselves and their company up to a big ass time lawsuit.

      JMM

  9. AvatarMegan says

    I agree with William.

    If you’re employed by a company, that company has rented your time and labor for the hours in which you’re actually working for them. They can’t possibly own you all the time. (Unless they pay your wage for 24 hours a day – there’s an idea!) When what you do on your own time has no bearing on your work, (I mean, if someone comes in to operate the forklift drunk, then yes, there’s a problem) being penalized for it is absurd.

    Granted, if as a condition of your employment you’ve signed a contract stating that you would not publicly make negative comments about the company, you’re obligated to abide by that.

  10. AvatarJay says

    As HR Director, I ask: Do you really need another policing project? Today when resources are limited, demands are high (no pun intended) and workplace morale is lower than we like, is this “really” the mission you would like to take on? Are we looking for resources to demonstrate our worth as HR professionals or is there a ligit concern?

    I work in California, where medical pot is allowed by the State of CA. I am not condoning it or holding up a cross and dispelling the use. I guess I am saying that I think there are so many other hot topics to deal with, such as OD, comp review, labor law compliance, OSHA compliance and reporting, training and development.

    If your organization has a “no expectation of privacy” policy, you should be fine – bottom line.

    I’m of the school where being direct is key. If you have that “no expectation” policy, chat with the EE and let them know what you stumbled upon. If there behavior or performance is suffering, and you have suspicion that they are using alcohol or illegal drugs at work, have them take a fitness-for-duty exam. If they’re performance and behavior is not a problem, why play detective?

    -Gary

    I dont’ know…it seems that HR professionals lose sight of being business partners and look for ways to “police” the staff.

    • Jessica Miller-MerrellJessica Miller-Merrell says

      Gary,

      Exactly! Personally, I think some HR folks are control filled power mongers who have to be in control of the rules to feel like they are providing value. Instead, we should serve as more of a consultant or advisory to our leaders and managers as well as employees. I have never wanted to find another thing to police, and that’s the exact reason I pose these questions.

      Thanks for your comment!

      JMM

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